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Sundance '05 Interview: 'Room' Director Kyle Henry

by Scott Weinberg

The "Room" Pitch: We all have something in common with Julia Barker. She's overworked, doesn't spend enough time with her family, and the sound of doomsday on the news follows her everywhere. Julia lives in Houston, is married with two children, and barely makes ends meet by working on the floor of Paradise Bingo Hall. She has begun having visions of a room--stark, vacuous, and industrial. After waking up from a minor car accident on a road that parallels the flight pattern to George Bush Airport, Julia follows her vision and flees on an airplane to New York City. Once there she continues to search for the room, which insinuates itself more and more forcefully into her consciousness.

"When the doors of perception become unhinged."

Will this be your first time at Sundance? If not, what else have you been to Park City with?
No, I was there in 2002 as the editor of Eric Eason's feature Manito, also produced by The 7th Floor.

When you were 14 years old, if someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, what would your answer have been?
A biologist.

How did you get started in filmmaking?
In high school my father bought me a Super 8 camera from a garage sale that I used to make short in-camera films. I was accepted to Rice University, a school mostly known for it's science program, but I switched majors my first year to Art and Art History. While at Rice, several of my short plays were produced and my first experimental feature was completed. As a grad student in the MFA film program at The University of Texas-Austin, my interest shifted though to documentary filmmaking, where I completed two long format films. Upon graduation, I worked as an assistant editor and editor. Really, after all of this though, I feel like I'm just starting now.

How have things changed for you since your film was accepted into the festival?
I haven't slept much as we race through final post-production, and I'm loading up on vitamins and herbal immune system boosters so I don't get the flu and miss the festival. I also had to quit my job as an editor on a feature doc, since post doesn't mix well with full time employment. It's a swan dive into the void with the hope of resurfacing after the festival is over.

When you were shooting the film, did you have Sundance (or film festivals in general) in mind?
I definitely had in mind taking the film on the festival circuit, but that choice didn't influence any of my filmmaking decisions. I was too preoccupied with paying attention to every detail along the way to make the film as a whole work. Sundance is the top of the line in America, though, and I always hoped it would premiere there.

How did you get your film started? How did you go from script to finished product?
I worked on the script for over four years. Most of the work was completed during a residency at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art (Omaha, NE) in 2001. Many readings occurred with friends and local actors in Austin from 2001 till 2003 when the film went into production. A grant from the Texas Filmmaker's Production Fund 2003 (Austin Film Society) really jumped started pre-production though, and if not for that grant, the film never would have happened. When I got the grant it was a mixture of relief and anxiety that now, oh crap, this really is going to happen. Also, didn't have the money to complete the film after shooting the Texas portion, and luckily Jim Mckay's C-Hundred Film Corp came through just in the nick of time with production funding for the New York section. Finally, the 7th Floor provided the know how to make the second half of the film happen in New York and guided the film through post-production to completion. Also, the project's early post at The Edit Center kept momentum through lean financing by allowing Pete Beaudreau, the film's the editor/instructor, to learn Room's footage while I made early decisions based on student rough cuts.

Whats the one glaring lesson you learned while making this film?
As always, you depend upon the creativity of EVERYONE involved in ALL phases of production to make the film happen. There is no such thing as independence in filmmaking. I am SO grateful for the total amount of collective creative energy poured into this vessel, a lesson in creative co-dependence that will stay with me till I can no longer make films. On the pithy side - instruct actors to blink as little as possible!

When you were in pre-production, did you find yourself watching other great movies in preparation?
At this point, most of the inspiration models I use for discussions with
crew come from sources outside cinema. In Room's case it was the photography of Nan Goldin, the writings of Carl Jung, and early minimalist electronic music by Terry Reilly and Steve Reich. With the editor, I did discuss my love of director Nicolas Roeg, in particular the film Don't Look Now, in terms of setting mood and the collision of high and lows in thrillers. I tried not to talk about other films with the cast and just stuck to making the most of what was in the script and what the actors could bring to the table.

If a studio said we love this, we love you, you can remake anything in our back catalogue for $40m what film, if any, would you want to remake?
It would have to be a film that I thought had an interesting idea but was a filmic failure. Why remake something that is great? It's setting yourself up for disaster and taking you away from whatever creative moorings you might have to keep your balance. In general though, remakes just don't get me very excited, and you need this excitement to do anything interesting.

Two parter name an actor you'd KILL to work with, and then name an actor in your own film that you really think is destined for great things.
For one of the scripts I'd like to do next, would love to work with a great comedic actress, either Amy Sedaris or Tracey Ullman. I really think Cyndi Williams, the lead in my film, is just beginning to hit her stride as a film actress and hope she goes on to work in many more films.

The festival circuit: what could be improved? What's been your favorite part of the ride?
Sundance will be Room's premiere, so the ride has just begun. Get back to me at the end of the year to see my exhausted carcass passed out in some bar, but right now all is anxiety and anticipation.

Have you made it yet? If not, at what point will you be able to say yes?
As soon as anyone say's they've "made it" they're "over." There is no such thing as making it, at least in my mind, since every project is an
opportunity to learn, grow, sharpen your craft, try new things, etc. So, I think the yes part will come on my death bed as I cross into the next dimension.

A film is made by many people, including the director (of course), but you'll often see movies that open with a credit that says a film by Did you use that credit in your film? If so, defend yourself! If not, what do you think of those who do?
I do think that if someone is ultimately responsible for making final decisions on a film, they should be credited as the film's "author." Although no one is waiting with bated breath for the next "Film by Kyle Henry" I do think it lets an audience know that the film is not the product of some focus group/rewrite team, especially the core beliefs and world view that the film projects and supports. As stated above, though, at every phase of the film the crew, cast and producers helped provided creative solutions, all though within a boundary or range that I was able to determine. I feel very lucky and privileged that my first feature could be made under these conditions.


Room will premiere January 21st, 2005 at the Sundance Film Festival. Click here for more information.

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originally published on 01/12/05 08:29:18
last updated on 01/12/05 08:42:29

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